Adamstown Mechanics’ Institute

In researching the history of Adamstown Council I discovered that the first council meeting was held in the Adamstown Mechanics’ Institute building on Wednesday 10th March 1886. Newcastle Library has undated photo of the institute building, but there was no immediate information on where this building was located.

Adamstown Mechanics Institute. Photo by Ralph Snowball. Hunter Region Library.

After consulting my index of historical real estate maps I found a 1921 map that shows that the building was on the west side of Union St, just to the south of Victoria Street. (Union St was the early name of the section of Brunker Rd south of Glebe Rd.)

Location of Adamstown Mechanics’ Institute, from a 1921 real estate map. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

The Adamstown Mechanic’s Institute started in August 1879, making use of rented rooms in Mrs Fennessy’s house. A year later, at the first annual meeting, the institute was still renting premises, but plans were afoot to erect their own building. These plans came to fruition the following year, and the new wooden building on Union Street was officially opened on 6th August 1881. The building measured 66 by 165 feet, with the inner hall being 40 x 20 feet, and was erected at a cost of about £120, in the short contract time of twelve weeks.

The wooden Mechanics Institute building was removed in 1928, as part of the widening of Union Street, and a new brick building was erected on the same site, and officially opened on 25th August 1928.

Many grand speeches were made that day expressing high hopes for the future of the Mechanics Institute, hopes that were soon dashed. Within eight years, dwindling of membership meant that the institute was unable to meet the repayments on the loan for the building. In 1936 the trustees appealed to Adamstown Council to take over the institute, but the impending Greater Newcastle Council scheme stalled negotiations.

The Greater Newcastle Council which came into being in 1938 was uninterested in assisting the Adamstown Mechanics Institute, and by April 1939 it was clear that there was no hope for the future. “Unable to carry on through lack of finance the committee of Adamstown Mechanics’ Institute has decided to advise the trustees of the institution’s inability to meet liabilities.” The committee thus recommended “that the creditor bank be invited to foreclose and dispose of the property.”

Subsequently the Adamstown RSL purchased the building in April 1942, and was officially opened as RSL club room by the State Secretary of the RSL (Mr A. R. Cutler, VC) on Saturday 18th July 1942.

The Adamstown Mechanics’ Institute building is officially opened as the Adamstown RSL club room by A.R. Cutler, VC. Newcastle Morning Herald, 20 July 1942.

The 1928 Mechanics’ Institute building, photographed July 2017.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
2 Aug 1879"Mechanics' Institute, Adamstown. We are glad to announce that the above institution is now fairly started. The committee have secured excellent rooms, and their carvass for subscriptions has been liberally responded to. The roll now numbers sixty members, and the institution will be formally opened on Monday next."
20 Aug 1880First yearly meeting. The institute is still renting premises, but is looking to erect their own building.
9 Aug 1881
6 Aug 1881
Official opening of the new wooden building for the Adamstown Mechanics' Institute.
12 Mar 1886The Mechanics' Institute is also known as the "School of Arts".
25 Aug 1927"Plans and specifications of the proposed new institute have been approved, and immediately sanction has been obtained the present building will be removed to fall into line with the widening scheme of Union-street."
5 Sep 1927Adamstown Council grants the building application for the new Mechanics' Institute building.
25 Oct 1927"Union-street, Adamstown, is nearly normal again after the widening operations. An important improvement to the street will be the new Mechanics' Institute, which the committee hopes to erect as soon as details have been finalised."
2 Feb 1928A new Mechanics' Institute building "is to be erected at a cost of £2220."
24 May 1928"The secretary of Adamstown Mechanics' Institute wrote the local council last night, agreeing to the removal of portions of the Institute."
"It was decided that the council should approach the Main Roads Board for £30 compensation for the land given by the Institute for the improvement of Union-street roadway."
2 Aug 1928
31 Jul 1928
Annual meeting of the Adamstown Mechanics' Institute - "now the new institute was nearing completion the membership was increasing."
"The chairman said the new building would be ready for occupation in a few weeks. The opening was fixed for Saturday, August 25."
27 Aug 1928
25 Aug 1928
Official opening of the new building for the Adamstown Mechanics' Institute/School of Arts.
20 Aug 1936"A special meeting of Adamstown Council will be held to consider a proposal by the trustees of the Adamstown Mechanics' Institute that the council should take over the institute and accept responsibility for the £1600 owing on the building."
The President of the Institute (Mr. H. P. Townsend) said "the days of mechanics' institutes as previously constituted had passed."
6 Apr 1939"Unable to carry on through lack of finance the committee of Adamstown Mechanics' Institute has decided to advise the trustees of the institution's inability to meet liabilities." A recommendation will be made "that the creditor bank be invited to foreclose and dispose of the property."
14 May 1942
30 Apr 1942
Report that the Adamstown Sub-branch of the Returned Soldiers' League "had taken possession of the School of Arts on April 30 and documents had been completed for the final transfer."

Update, Aug 2017

Paul Zuljan sent me a photograph of an old photo from his family that shows a large number of people posing in front of the Mechanics’ Institute building, The date and the occasion is unknown, but I have a suspicion that it may be the occasion of the opening of the new brick building in 1928.

Adamstown Mechanics’ Institute. Photo supplied by P. Zuljan.

Power Station Plaque

In 1890 Lambton became just the third town in New South Wales to have electric street lighting. To power the lights a generating station was constructed in a disused quarry on Newcastle Road. The opening of the station was commemorated with a plaque above the door reading:

Lambton Electric Light Station

 W.T. Dent Mayor 1890

The electric light scheme was a commercial failure, the power station was shut down, and the building removed in 1904. Thirty-four years later in 1938, the Newcastle Herald reported an interesting discovery.

When a house was being demolished in Kendall-street, Lambton, some time ago, workmen found beneath it an old cast iron plate. It was rusted and slightly the worse of wear, but it told the story of a venture undertaken by Lambton Council 48 years ago, when a desperate attempt to leap to prosperity ended in a glorious failure.

 

When the electricity undertaking failed the power-house, which had been erected near the quarry, was demolished. The cast iron plate telling the date of the undertaking and the nature of the industry was removed and taken by the former Town Clerk (Mr. T. Johnson) to his home in Kendall-street. It was there that the workmen found it, leaning against a stone pile beneath the house. A treasured memorial, that old plate. Outside the debt it was all the council had left to remind it of the commercial venture. Taken to the council chambers some weeks before the council disbanded the plate was cleaned up and lettering picked out in white. It still leans against a wall in the silent interior of that abandoned room.

Subsequently the Newcastle Herald reported in 1975, that the plaque was “now on public display at Nesca House”. Last heard of 42 years ago, does anyone know where the plaque is now?

The Lambton Electric Light station on the day of the official opening, with the plaque displayed over the front entrance, 9th September 1890. Photo by Ralph Snowball. Hunter Region Library

The Lambton Electric Light Station plaque in 1938, when it was rediscovered underneath a Kendall St house.

Excerpt from a 1975 Newcastle Herald article by Louise Boon, indicating that the plaque was now on display in Nesca House.

After the publication of this article, Ed Tonks posted to the Lost Newcastle Facebook page a photo of the plaque on display in a meeting room of Nesca House in 1985.

The plaque in Nesca House in 1985. Photo kindly supplied by Ed Tonks.


The article above was first published in the August 2017 edition of the Lambton & New Lambton Local.

Additional information

Further information on the Lambton Electric Light scheme can be found in my previous articles:

Whispering Gully Mails

After a hiatus of 117 years, the postal service to Whispering Gully was briefly resumed today, for a special delivery to Mr Griffiths.

Two things strike me about this article – firstly that the contractor has to be given three months notice, and is presumably paid for not delivering the mail for those three months, and secondly, the lurking but unasked question of how long Whispering Gully had been deserted before the authorities in Sydney cottoned on.

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser, Friday 20 April 1900, page 2

Blackbutt Reserve

Blackbutt Reserve today owes its existence to a strange combination of business prosperity, national adversity, and private tenacity.

The current area of the Reserve lies wholly within the boundaries of a coal mining lease of the Scottish Australian Mining Company. The eighteen hundred acre lease extended from Kotara South to Jesmond. Mining commenced in 1863, and apart from occasional downturns, the colliery prospered. Therefore, above ground there was little development apart from buildings such as pumping stations, required to support underground mining operations.

However, with the depletion of coal, and rising land taxes, the S.A.M Company looked for other income, from real estate. Between 1915 and 1928 the company developed and sold a few small subdivisions in Lambton, New Lambton, and Kotara. In June 1932, they attempted to auction a large parcel of land, in what is now the southern part of Blackbutt Reserve. The nation at this time however, was suffering the adversity of economic depression. There was little appetite for land purchases, and only five of the 52 lots on offer were sold. The failure of the auction thus left open a window of opportunity for local councils to purchase the land for a nature reserve, starting with 17 acres on Lookout Road in 1938, and increasing to 144 acres by 1940.

In 1956, Newcastle Council bought another 270 acres from the S.A.M. Company, in what is now the northern part of Blackbutt Reserve. Council wanted to subdivide all this land for housing, but through the tenacious opposition of private citizens and community groups, this development was blocked. Instead, the land was added to Blackbutt Reserve. Community opposition had to swing into action again in 1966 to prevent the Department of Main Roads building an expressway through the Reserve.

Many individuals worked tirelessly for the establishment and preservation of Blackbutt Reserve. One in particular, Joe Richley, president of the Northern Parks and Playgrounds Movement for 20 years, is commemorated in the name of Richley Reserve.

Middle Pit pumping shaft, 1894. Located where the entrance to Richley Reserve is today. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

The approximate site of Middle Pit in 2017, at the entrance to Richley Reserve.


The article above was first published in the July 2017 edition of the Lambton & New Lambton Local.

Acknowledgement

One of my main sources in researching and writing this article was “A History of Blackbutt Nature Reserve” by John Ramsland, University of Newcastle, a manuscript written for the Blackbutt Reserve Local Committee as a contribution to the Australian Bicentennial Celebrations. A copy of this manuscript is held in Newcastle Region Library Local Studies Section, Q719.32/RAM.

Additional Photos

From the Newcastle Morning Herald, 12 Jan 1937.

Two views of Blackbutt Reserve, which is being acquired by the municipal councils of the district for retention as a public park. From the shelter shed there is a commanding view of Newcastle.

Newcastle Morning Herald. 12 Jan 1937.

Newcastle Morning Herald. 12 Jan 1937.

Development on the S.A.M. Co Mining Lease

The 1888 map below, held by the NSW Land and Property Information, shows the 1840 acres of mining lease held by the Scottish Australian Mining Company in the name of “Morehead & Young”, in the following lots:

  • Lot 23 – 320 acres
  • Lot 167 – 320 acres
  • Lot 171 – 320 acres
  • Lot 172 – 240 acres
  • Lot 173 – 320 acres
  • Lot 174 – 320 acres

1888 map showing mining leases of Scottish Australian Mining Company. NSW Land and Property Information.

Fifty years after mining commenced in 1863, a 1913 War Office map shows that the only area of the 1840 acre mining lease with residential development is the township of Lambton in the north west corner.

Portion of 1913 War Office map of Newcastle, with 1840 S.A.M. lease outlined in blue. National Library of Australia.

From 1915, the Scottish Australian Mining Company started developing and selling residential subdivisions, starting with 24 blocks of “Lambton Park Estate” fronting Howe St, in May 1915.

Twenty five blocks on Russell St New Lambton were offered for sale in June 1915. (All real estate posters are from the University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.)

Fifty seven blocks surrounding Chilcott St Lambton were offered for sale in January 1920.

Twenty eight blocks in New Lambton Heights were offered for sale in October 1920.Ten blocks on Curzon St and Carrington Pde, New Lambton were offered for sale in December 1921.

191  blocks in Kotara were offered for sale in 1925.

Twenty six blocks on Turner St Lambton were offered for sale in 1928.

In 1932, the Scottish Australian Mining Company attempted to auction 52 blocks of land, totalling 480 acres. With the country in the grip of the Depression, the auction was a failure, with just five of the 52 blocks selling.

Poster for auction of land in Blackbutt Reserve area, 1932. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

One of the blocks that sold was Lot 51, on Lookout Rd. This was bought by the Newcastle Branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Institute. It was this block that became the first officially gazetted portion of Blackbutt Reserve in March 1938.

The 17 acres and 3 roods of Lot 51 on Lookout Road, was the first portion of Blackbutt Reserve to be officially gazetted. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

By September 1940, the size of Blackbutt Reserve had been increased to 144 acres, as shown on this Parish Map of Newcastle. The 144 acres consisted of Lots 48 to 52, and part of lot 47 of the 1932 subdivision.

Parish map of Newcastlem showing the boundary of the 144 acres of Blackbutt Reserve as of 13th September 1940. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

It is interesting to see how the modern boundaries of Blackbutt Reserve fall entirely within the S.A.M. Company’s mining lease, an indication of how the underground mining activities there in the 19th century left large areas of the surface undeveloped, and available for a nature reserve in the 20th century.

Blackbutt Reserve in relation to the S.A.M. Company mining lease.

Middle Pit

The first reference in Trove to the Middle Pit is from January 1875, in relation to driving “two narrow bords four yards wide for water standage.”

It is uncertain when the Middle Pit pumping shaft ceased operation. It was still in use in June 1913, as an article refers to the damage done to Orchardtown Road in the course of carting coal to Middle Pit, presumably to fire the engine boilers. A December 1937 article reported on the attempted rescue of a dog that had purportedly fallen down the shaft. The site had obviously been unused for quite a number of years, judging by the description …

The disused shaft is known in the locality as Middle Pit, and was formerly used in connection with the workings of the Old Lambton mine. Pit top gear, including an old rusted winding wheel, is still there, but the pit itself has fallen into disuse. It is in a deep gully, and nobody would suspect its presence when more than 100 yards away. Thick lantana has grown almost to the edge; briar bushes form a barrier between the outside world and the old shaft. The only sound is the sighing of wind in the gum trees. In the interests of safety the shaft has been enclosed by a tall galvanised iron fence. The ground at the foot of portion of the fencing has worn away, and through this hole the dog probably slipped in.

In this 1944 aerial photo the location of Middle Pit can be seen in the bare area to the west of Freyberg St. Newcastle Region Library.

Google Maps. Location of Middle Pit.

Google Earth. Approximate location of Middle Pit.

State Highway 23

The Hunter Living Histories site has a scanned PDF of a booklet “Save Blackbutt – the cas against State Highway 23 violating Blackbutt Reserve”.  This booklet was published by the Blackbutt Action Committee in opposing the construction of the highway.

Figure 1 below, from the Federal Government December 1974 report, “The Impact of State Highway 23 on Blackbutt Reserve, Newcastle, New South Wales” shows how much of the western part of the reserve would have been severed had the highway proposal not been blocked by staunch community opposition.

Proposed route of State Highway 23 through Blackbutt Reserve in the 1960s.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
9 Apr 1931First mention of the name "Blackbutt Reserve" in the newspapers.
12 May 1931Thirty to forty aldermen of the city and district inspect the Blackbutt area. The Mayor of Newcastle (Ald Parker said that they "were definitely impressed that if acquired for a reserve it would be an asset to the district."
11 Jun 1932Advertisement for auction of 52 blocks of land, in the area of the south part of Blackbutt Reserve.
11 Aug 1932"An area of 17¾ acres in Blackbutt Reserve imnmediately below the Look-out, has been bought by the Returned Sailors and Soldiers' Memorial Institute. The purchase will serve a dual purpose, for not only will returned men willing to work for any relief they may obtain from the Institute carry out their undertaking there, but the Institute will settle a few ex-service men there on small allotments." This block became the first official part of Blackbutt Reserve in 1938.
5 Jan 1937Convinced that Blackbutt Reserve is inappropriately named, the Mayor of Newcastle (Ald. H. Fenton), in his capacity of Chairman of the Local Govern ment Coordination Committee, is urging the adoption of a more attractive title. He suggested last night that if the reserve was dedicated as a memorial to King George V., it could be called the "King George V Memorial Park." Or there might he support, Ald. Fenton added, for a proposal that the area be known as the "Duke of Windsor Reserve."
4 Mar 1938Official resumption of 17 acres of land (Lot 51) for Blackbutt Reserve.
14 Sep 1966A public meeting will be held to protest against the Main Roads Board decision to route a six-lane highway through Blackbutt Reserve.

A few hundred metres from the site of Middle Pit, in the bush adjacent to Richley Reserve, lies this rusting coal bucket, a poignant symbol of the way in which the decline of coal mining gave rise to a nature reserve.

Rusting remains of a coal bucket, lying in the bush close to Richley Reserve.

Hollywood revisited

A few weeks ago I met up with Mike Scanlon from the Newcastle Herald, and we had a pleasant chat about a number of local history subjects, including the depression era shanty town “Hollywood” near Jesmond Park, which I wrote about last March. Mike has made use of some of my material in his article in the Herald today and made it available to a wider audience.

You can check out my page on Hollywood for further background information and photos, and also leave comments there. You can also read my monthly column for the Lambton and New Lambton Local, “That was then, this is now”, which focuses on the history of these suburbs, as well as other blog articles on the local history of Newcastle.

Fragmentary remains of human habitation, in “Hollywood”.